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The Alehouse Sessions

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A joyful celebration of 17th-century folk music, fiddle tunes, drinking songs and sea shanties, brought vividly to life by virtuoso musicians Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene. Google Analytics sets this cookie to calculate visitor, session and campaign data and track site usage for the site's analytics report. Cut scene, and we move into the “back room” of the pub (which is really a stage at the Battersea Arts Centre), we’re on stage in front of a very enthusiastic, diverse audience who’s joining in singing, laughing and dancing. The Alehouse Sessions aims to capture the atmosphere and sounds of London at a time where the theatres were closed, due to Oliver Cromwell’s prohibition in the 17th century. This was, perhaps, the greatest pleasure of seeing the Alehouse Boys in the flesh, by which the rigor and body work that goes into such a performance came across with unique authenticity.

This was immediately followed by a version of Purcell's “Lead Me” that was even more resolutely alive than the album version. A portion of the album's repertoire comes to us by way of "The English Dancer," a compendium of country dances from which the band assembles a heady flight that includes the lager of “Wallom Green” and the maltier “The Virgin Queen Set. At the time, Puritans had closed theaters under cloak of moral guardianship, in the process displacing highly trained musicians into the alternate reality of the tavern, where they filled the air with intoxicating sounds as patrons intoxicated themselves. Always one of our most popular sections, Masterclass has been an invaluable aid to aspiring soloists, chamber musicians and string teachers since the 1990s.This means we really want the unexpected to happen because it brings a refreshing air of spontaneity to our performances and audiences love it. Since 2007 he and his Barokksolistene ensemble have taken over venues from London’s Middle Temple Hall to a motorcycle club outside Oslo (the bikers moved their Harleys out on to the street to make room). This was the popular music of the streets and taverns where artistic freedom was paramount so that musicians would be free to respond and change to whatever audience might be at hand. Members get the first chance to book our entire programme of events, including go-down-in-history gigs, concerts with world-class orchestras, and talks from cultural icons and political giants. BBC Four is broadcasting our Alehouse Sessions which filmmaker Dominic Best filmed in Battersea Arts Centre one snowy night in December.

But perhaps most exciting are the relationships the disc establishes between Purcell’s music and the nicely spoken melodies from Playford’s English Dancing Master and their bastard musical relations in other genres. Commissioned by the BBC and directed by award-winning director Dominic Best (AdLib Productions), the film will be premiered on BBC TV in late April 2023. There’s humour and plenty of back-chat in the muscular shanties ‘Haul away Joe’ and ‘Pass around the grog’, fleet-footed folk fiddling and irresistibly syncopated rhythms in the Travel Set and the Canadian Set – each weaving together a sequence of traditional tunes – while ballads such as the lovely ‘I drew my ship’ (exquisitely arranged by Eike himself for soloist Tom Guthrie and cloudy strings, bright-flecked with harmonics) give welcome moments of pause and pathos. You can also use the external lift near the Artists' Entrance on Southbank Centre Square to reach Mandela Walk, Level 2.

I know it feels very unlikely that we, the Barokksolistene, a Scandi group of baroque specialists, have made a programme for British TV singing sea shanties and folk ballads alongside Purcell.

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